Thursday, June 23, 2011

Writing as a Commodity

As part of the Masters course at the IIML I have to collect around 50 pages of worthy material and use it to present a two hour class.
Some of the people in my class have used this opportunity to showcase their favorite writers, or pieces of work which relate to their own portfolios. We've gone through and talked about what makes it good, which parts we like and don't like, and so on.
There have been presentations with articles of literary analysis, interviews with authors, and so on. We've been given prompts or guidance on what to discuss, although for the most part we are willing to take the ball and run with it. After all, we're writers. We all have a lot to say.

I'm pretty nervous about my own little collection, which I will have to hand out in about two weeks time (we get two weeks to read each round, so my actual trial by peer group won't be for another month or so).

Where's the balance? I don't want to be completely dry, but this is a masters course so I can only get away with including snippets of Margret Mahy's work every so often. (When asked to provide poems that have inspired me, I can and will read you the entirety of Bubble Trouble, but you should have read it anyway!)
Plus we have to choose our own topic. Which was a task in itself.
After veering from a vague of exploration of poetics, to the much more fun idea of "the strange and wonderful lives of poets" (which was based around the assumption that everyone else would provide the necessary serious topics in their seminars) to another vague (and possibly insulting) thought that I could somehow help everyone explore "why they write" I've settled on a topic that is close to my heart.
Writing as a commodity. Specifically as it relates to the poets and authors who create it.

This is a vast topic of which I'm only going to be brushing the top. And I don't know how popular it's going to be with my classmates.
I am determined, by hook or by crook to make a living at this game, but not everyone is interested in that. I am fascinated by the sale of words, the consumption of them, the popularity, the publicity, who sells, who sold out, etc. I hope these things won't put everyone else to sleep.

We are supposed to be in the first full flush of our infatuation with writing. The writing is the only thing that matters. We might look for signs that an engagement is a possibility, we might be encouraged to think about an exciting proposal, an extravagant wedding, or the happily ever after.
But, not the down and dirty business of a pre-nup. Nor the compromises on religion, child-rearing, or who gets the remote control that may lie on the horizon.
We might sigh and say perhaps we'll never find that special someone, but everyone will rush to disagree. Oh no, of course you will! Who wouldn't want you?

Well, I like thinking about pre-nups... uh, book contracts. I like to learn about e-sales, self publishing (heh. Now what would be the corresponding metaphor for that?), agents, publishers, publicity, competitions and compromises. Especially compromises.
For example, there seems to be a lot of debate (now and always) on how dumb poetry should, could and does get in the pursuit of readership (and sales).
Is people reading poetry, no matter how "dumb" it may be, a bad thing? Does the consumption of bad poetry take away from the consumption of good poetry? (that's not a trick question, some say it does in very concrete ways) Should a poet ever change what they have written to make it more marketable? Or write in order to sell rather than from pure inspiration? How is that different from changing a poem at an editor's request to fit a given journal?
How the heck can you ever make poetry more marketable?

Hmmm... I'll have to remember some of these for my class. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Case for Mornings...

This morning, the city of Wellington was cloaked in the longing of Papatuanuku. Her misty sighs hid the Hutt valley and the top of Mt. Victoria. Slopes faded up high, like ink had been washed away.
The streets were still, even at 8am (when I was setting off for my walk) because it was the Queen's so-called Birthday. Every bus that went past was an Event. Every person I met smiled as though we shared a secret.
Wellington herself was drafted in chalk pastel, edges blurred into the surrounding gray.
Air pressed into the palms of my hands; the tousled head of the wind. He just wanted a cuddle, no boisterous games today.

For a few moments, walking along Oriental Bay, I was completely alone. No cars, no people in sight, just the harbour, with the dark dorsal of Somes island ahead, and the hills, what could be seen of them, and me.
I thought about the people I used to see in Auckland, on my morning runs. The thin biker in stripes and a maniacal grin who careened past at approximately 8.10am. The woman who always ran in full makeup. The bloke in sheathed lycra with long, straight hair that flowed behind him as he sprinted. The little old man who smiled as though I was the high point of his day. I'm not sure if it was my kind eyes, or the escape attempts of my chest that tickled him so.

Here, now, were only the shags and swallows; the occasional seagull.
It has its own charm.

It didn't last of course. I rounded that corner, so I could see down into Miramar and there they all were, Wellington runners I don't have pithy descriptions for yet. I was merely ahead of the pack for once. Not for long.
On my way back I spotted three sting rays half buried in the artificial beach. I stopped and smiled at another runner who also stopped to look at them.
I could see the shapes of their heads, the thin, whip like tails and it made me think of my father, who once tried to pick up a stick while snorkeling and discovered it was attached to a ray. He leaped higher than I would have thought possible for such a large man. That one had been more than a meter across, as I remember it. These were half the size.
Three for a girl. Or, maybe, two for joy and another one for sorrow.

It was still misty when I got home. It was dripping down my nose.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Tunnel

Around ten years ago I was living in Wellington, well, in Northland, Wellington anyway and I was lonely.
So, I tried attending a meditation evening because, hey, it seemed cheap and maybe was a good place to meet people. The course was run by two lovely women, who both worked as "fortunetellers" so, as it turned out, it wasn't the kind of meditation I expected.
We looked for our totem animals. We regressed ourselves. We had allergic reactions to incense that were taken to be extremely meaningful.
Pretty much every week someone would see a historic figure in the corner... in fact many weeks there seemed to be dozens.
When they began talking about our alien overlords (oh you think I'm kidding, but I'm really not) I finally stopped going.
Although I am making (I hope gentle) fun of the group, in reality we were all lonely women (I think a guy came in once for a few minutes, but he might have been looking for the restroom), searching for someone to pay just a little scrap of attention to us and in that sense, the classes were wonderful. We all turned out to be Ancient Egyptian princesses after all.

Anyway. This long winded explanation is to justify why I was sitting in a Spiritualist church one particular night. I was there with one of the group leaders, a very sweet woman who I considered a friend. I don't remember much of the ceremony, although I don't think it was strictly Wiccan... It was a bit of a hodgepodge of different religions. Nice, friendly people.
At the end of the mass, a few of the psychics in the congregation stood up and did impromptu readings for the crowd. They would point at someone and expound on the ghosts surrounding them, or predict their future, or talk about angels or whatever.
Both times I was there I got picked on (the first time by my friend who explained to me that there were faeries all around me. Made my next shower a delightful adventure).
Now, I've just done my best to explain that I don't really believe this stuff now. I have developed a healthy skepticism (not that I was being taken for a ride... meditation "class" was ten dollars and I was pretty much getting out of it what I wanted).
But, I still remember what the second woman told me. She was standing up and got me to stand as well. She was across the crowded room from me, but maybe she could see my face clearly, because she told me that I was going through a tunnel.
She said I had a dark tunnel to go through and that it would take years, but that one day I would come out the end of it.
That's it. Not a huge insight, I mean, I was a teenager, of course I was going through a dark tunnel.
Later, I found her at the tea and biscuits table and asked her if there would be anyone waiting for me at the end of the tunnel (of course... I was a teenager!).
She looked very upset and shrugged, and said maybe and apologized for giving me such a depressing reading. I think that might have been what made it stick in my mind. Most of the readings I've seen (not a lot, to tell the truth) have some kind of upbeat end. They want to give you hope and make you feel special, because that's the drug. It's what keeps you coming back (I know this doesn't apply to all of you who work in that business and I don't mean to disparage individuals, many of whom genuinely want to help people). 
She gave me no hope.

Every now and then, since that time, I have looked about my life and asked myself, am I still in the tunnel? And then I would say, yes.
Sure, there's been good bits, bloody marvelous bits in fact, and even the bad bits have their uses I have to admit. I am trying to write poetry after all.
But, that's a long, long goshdarn tunnel. More than ten years worth of tunnel. It's dark and confusing and sad all the time. All the time.

Today, under the lowering clouds, in my cold, still bare room, with a niggling backache, and a dying cellphone I had to admit something to myself.
I'm through the tunnel. My lovely flatmate offered me balm for my back. The weather broke free long enough for me to run to the Farmer's Market (the one on Willis) and buy some lovely late watermelon that tastes like candy. I've only been on holiday for a few days and I already miss my classes.
Somehow I managed to keep my eyes peeled for the light, scramble over the slimy rocks and through the... OK, sorry, you get the idea. Anyway.
I'm through the damn tunnel.